“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.” – Frederick Buechner in “Whistling in the Dark”
Recently, during a long lay-over at an airport, I sat at a table with a cup of coffee and tried to catch up on some work. It was a large airport, and it was crowded (and I am easily distracted). Lots of people were making their way to their gates looking focused on where they were headed, or on their digital devices that kept them in contact.
As I would people watch, I would wonder: Where are they going? Are they headed home, or away in their travels? I wonder what they do for work? For fun? What is their story? I’d look at their faces (trying not to look like I’m creepily staring at them) and wonder if they looked happy, or sad.
In a crowd, it is easy to be anonymous. We tend to not pay attention to the other bodies that are walking around us. And when someone is anonymous, it is easy to dehumanize them. It’s easy to become irritated at the person who bumps into you for not paying attention when we don’t understand that maybe the text message they are looking at is from one of their kids, and they are trying to do “long-distance parenting.” We forget that that person is simply another human, just like us, who is trying to do the best that they can.
And when we forget this, it is easy to lash out in anger instead of compassion. Isn’t this the source of much of the division, polarization and even road-rage or cyber-bullying that we experience? We forget that they have a story; and when we forget that people have a story, we forget their humanity.
When God completed creation, God called it good. At the end of every day of creation, God paused and said “it is good.” And the scriptures remind us that “…God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
When we look at people, especially those we do not know, in the same way that God does, as creations made to be “good,” we can’t help but look at them differently. It doesn’t matter what they look like, where they choose to worship (or not), where they are from, what their political party is, what language they speak, how they feel about the school bond election, or any of the other things that may divide us. We are all children of God. And God created us to be good. Being created in the image of God is what unifies us.
Look at people…all people…with the same vision that God does. Wonder about their story. Get to know them. Seek to understand them. Look and see what God is up to within them. When we do, we restore relationships, and we bring healing to our lives and to God’s world
God’s peace, friends!
Note: This piece was originally published for the “Pastor’s Perspective” column in the Owatonna People’s Press, July 20, 2019